13 July 2011

Photographing Your Metal Men in Miniature, or Learning to Use a Digital Camera

First off, here's a mundane shot of some red-coated Irish Grenzers (RSM figures) under one Colonel O'Malley.  A long forgotten unit of Wild Geese, who are currently in the service of Zichenau.

Almost since the start of the Grand Duchy of Stollen project, during the summer of 2006, I've used small point-and-shoot cameras to record my progress and occasional tabletop actions here.  While I've enjoyed using my old late 1990s-era Poloroid Elf (remember those?) that used actual film and more recently our little Canon digital model, I've long harbored a desire for better photographs that present everything within the frame in sharper focus, i.e., greater depth-of-field.  Blame it on the wonderful photographs that routinely grace the pages of Henry Hyde's Battlegames magazine and the Wargaming-in-History series of books by Charles Grant along with his Christmas annuals.  The latter two feature the photographic handiwork of Phil Olley.

But back to the subject of today's post here at the GD of S blog.  Since the Grand Duchess is in Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic at the moment with our little Canon point-and-shoot camera, it seems like high time to drag out the big guns and do some experimenting with the very nice (and complicated) Sony digital that dear ol' Mom gave us a couple of years ago when she upgraded her own equipment to semi-professional gear.  Besides painting and sculpting at her Mexican digs, Mom is an art photographer, and the macro end of the craft is her current interest.  Are you detecting a theme here? 

Mom visited Young Master Paul and me last week after the Grand Duchess left.  In fact, their paths crossed along a particular concourse at Chicago O'Hare International as one entered the United States and the other left for parts farther afield.  Anyway, Mom and I did much catching up while she was here, especially during the afternoons and evenings as we drank endless cups of coffee while the Young Master napped, or slept.  Besides solving all the problems of the world, one of the things we discussed was macro photography.  "Shazam!"  The light bulb finally went on for yours truly.

Now, the subject of macro photography is complex, and I am certainly no expert.  However, the basic idea is to set your digital camera to Aperture Mode and then set the lens to its highest F-Stop setting, making the aperture as small as possible, which increases the depth-of-field.  In plain language, that means that everything within the frame of a photograph will appear in much sharper focus rather than the item nearest the lens being in focus and everything else blurry.  A setting of F-22 seems to work nicely with the 50mm lens currently on our camera though I'm eager to try this out with a telephoto lens.  A wide angle lens might offer some interesting possibilities too.

If all of this macro photography stuff isn't old news to you -- it is a new learning experience for me -- there are a couple of additional caveats to keep in mind.  For one thing, you'll need to mount your camera on a tripod for this kind of thing, or place it flat on the table, because the shutter stays open longer to allow more light to enter the camera through the tiny aperture setting of the lens.  That means holding the camera in your hands will produce many blurred images.  Grrrr. . .   So, the second point to keep in mind is that if you have a little remote control thingy to click your shutter without touching the camera body, use it.  It will make your life easier and help you to produce sharp, eye-catching photographs sooner than might otherwise be the case.  

Finally, have fun experimenting to find what works best for you and see how the photographs of your soldiers and set-up come out.  And don't forget.  Just like professional photographers shooting models for Elle, Vogue, or another fashion magazine, you'll need to keep up a running monologue with your subjects to help them relax and keep up their spirits.  One particularly effective line that helps the 25-30mm figures on my wargaming table come across as sexy and photogenic is, "Make love to the camera babies!"  But I digress.  Check out a few additional photographs below and see what you think.  Enjoy!

Next, here is a slightly more interesting shot of a company of Stollenian jaegers, emerging from a wood to deliver blistering skirmish fire into the flank of some unsuspecting Zichenauer infantry unit.  Long-time followers of this blog might recall that these are Revell 1/72 plastics (Prussians), which were painted during the fall of 2006.

A massed cavalry melee between regiments of Zichenauer and Stollenian cavalry on the western edge of the field.   The Zichenauer cavalry in the foreground are, of course, those classic charging dragoon figures (in metal) by Spencer Smith that the Grand Duchess brought to me in her hand luggage all the way from Berlin in the summer of 2007.  Greater love hath no woman!

Here's another shot of the cavalry clash. This time, we see things from the Stollenian side of the field.  Cavalry are, from left to right, Holger Eriksson 'Swedish' dragoons and RSM 'Austrian' cuirassiers respectively.

An isolated company of Stollenian musketeers on the eastern flank of General von Katzenjammer's tenuous position marches forward to meet its fate in the face of overwhelming odds.  These figures are by Huzzah Miniatures, which, as noted in a recent issue of Battlegames, has recently become somewhat more active again after a dormant period in '08-'09.

Finally, here is the almost-completed North German church, based on a variety of existing red-brick Gothic structures across the north of Germany and Poland.  Looking at this picture now, I see a few things that need touching up, or even redoing, to make my Sankt Mariakirche look its best.  Sigh.  A model maker's work is never done. . .  And it seems as though I can't help ending on an alliterative note this evening!

Oh, and before I forget, one of you Stollen regulars asked recently about the materials I use for my tabletop built-up-areas.  Good question!  While many use foam core these days, I've always thought this material left tabletop buildings with an appearance that was too slick and precise, like plastic models out of a box.  I like my houses and other structures to look a bit rougher and more weathered.  Heavy gray cardboard, sold under the name 'chipboard' by art supply houses, and white artists' illustration board are my materials of choice along with bits and pieces of balsa wood, matchsticks, and those skinny flat, wooden coffee-stirrers that are found in cafes and coffee joints around the world.  Everything is held together with Elmer's Carpenters' Wood Glue -- it grabs fast, holds well, and cleans up easily -- and painted with various acrylic craft paints.  Whatever is close at hand really.  That's it in a nutshell.


Bluebear Jeff said...


I realize that you were testing/demonstrating your rather remarkable "depth of field" . . . but now it becomes apparent that you will need to acquire some "backgrounds" to frame your table.

No longer can you count on a misty out-of-focus background . . . now we can see the wall panels and read the labels on the objects in the cupboard.

See where a little learning leads thee?

Have fun, my friend.

-- Jeff

Prinz Ulrich von Boffke said...

Touche, Jeff! And how right you are though I don't know if I can bring myself to disguise the Heroes of Telemark poster!

Best Regards,


Grimsby Mariner said...

Nice work there. Thanks for that post all I need now is a camera. Ebay here I come.

Paul Liddle said...

Thanks for a very interesting and informative post but what struck me most was the fine paint jobs you've done on your soldiers.


Fitz-Badger said...

If you don't have a remote control clicky thing a lot of digital cameras have timers. So you can click the button to take the shot, and then the camera takes the shot after a few seconds. No shaking from trying to click the button yourself.

El Grego said...

Thanks for the camera tips, and the raw materials list for the buildings!


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